Paving the Path: Tips on How to Get into Your First Medical Affairs Role

3 minutes

Numerous PhD and PharmD graduates, along with other Clinical Research professionals, aspire ...

Numerous PhD and PharmD graduates, along with other Clinical Research professionals, aspire to transition into Medical Affairs following a successful academic or clinical career. The role of a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) holds great appeal for many individuals as it offers flexibility, excellent career advancement opportunities, and the ability to stay relevant and make a meaningful impact in the industry.

As an MSL professional, you will effectively bridge the knowledge gap between industry research and patient care, providing valuable insights into the latest advancements in the pharmaceutical industry.

Role of Medical Science Liaisons in the Life Sciences Industry

Pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and diagnostics companies employ Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) to establish strong relationships with research and healthcare professionals, commonly known as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). MSLs serve as scientific and medical experts, offering crucial and up-to-date information about the company's products, therapies, and research to KOLs. This role is essential in the industry because healthcare professionals may not be familiar with or fully understand the specific drug being represented, including its mechanisms of action, safety profile, and details of ongoing clinical trials. While the product being represented could potentially save a patient's life, their doctor might not be aware of it. Therefore, the MSL's function is highly impactful and important.

Changing Trends in MSL Positions: Territory, Therapeutic Area, and Expertise

MSL positions typically involve an assigned territory where the MSL is expected to reside and a specific therapeutic area in which the company has one or more products to be represented. Recently, there has been a shift in the industry. While in the past MSLs could easily switch therapeutic areas, there is now a growing trend of requiring previous experience in the specific therapeutic area or indication. For instance, whereas MSLs previously had the ability to transition from cardiology to immunology and neurology, now companies are increasingly seeking candidates with prior experience in the respective therapeutic area, such as heart disease for cardiology. This trend reflects a more targeted approach to MSL recruitment and highlights the importance of domain expertise in the field.

Pursuing this career path can be challenging since companies often require prior MSL experience to secure a role. This raises a reasonable question: 'How can I gain experience if no one is willing to give me a chance?'

Given the complexity of Medical Affairs and the difficulty of landing your first MSL role,  I redacted a few tips that have helped successful candidates in the past:

1.       Terminal degree

If you aim to work for a big Pharma company, make sure you have a terminal degree (PhD, MD, PharmD etc.). Biotech may give a chance to people with a master's degree or experienced MSLs with a bachelor’s one.

2.       Tailor your CV

Taylor your CV to the therapeutic area. If you have a PhD in Neurology, apply to neurology positions and make your CV strongly neurology-focused. Previous experience in the therapeutic area or closely related ones is essential.

3.       Travelling preferences

Know your trtravelingreferences, as territories will be smaller for common diseases states. Rare diseases may require you to cover bigger territories and travel +50% of the time, while oncology will have smaller territories and may allow you to work remotely.

4.       Try contracting first

You can try contracting first, for a year or so. Contracting companies may be more willing to give you a chance if you have never been an MSL before. Contract Research Organizations (CROs) also have MSLs that they contract out to Pharma.

5.       Utilize LinkedIn groups

Join LinkedIn MSL-related groups i.e., Clinical Research Professionals and Medical Affairs Network. Recruiters and Talent Acquisition use these to find new talent.

6.       Hunt for fellowships and internships

Most big pharma companies and some mid-sized biotech offer medical affairs fellowships programs that usually last 2 years and will allow you to explore different functions within medical affairs. Usually, this involves performing MSL duties for 3-6 months and getting assigned a territory.

7.       Use a recruiter with industry expertise

Choose a recruitment consultant that has expertise in medical affairs. You will get a professional approach based on an in-depth knowledge of the industry, CV tailoring, interview preparation, and salary negotiation on your behalf.

Transitioning into a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) role offers numerous benefits, including flexibility, career advancement, and the opportunity to bridge the gap between industry research and patient care. While securing an MSL position can be challenging due to the requirement for prior experience, there are strategies to enhance your appeal and increase your chances of success.

By following these recommendations, you can position yourself as a strong candidate and seize the rewarding opportunities that await you in the realm of medical affairs as an MSL.

If you would like for me to look over your CV or consult what roles we may have available in your territory, please visit our Medical page or contact me directly at

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